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What is Chaga?
The chaga mushroom is found most commonly in the Circumboreal Region of the Northern Hemisphere (which happily includes Estonia), where it is distributed in birch forests.
Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as chaga (a Latinisation of the Russian word чага), is a fungus in the family Hymenochaetaceae. It is parasitic on birch and other trees. It is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. It is not the fruiting body of the fungus, but a sclerotium or mass of mycelium, mostly black because of the presence of massive amounts of melanin.
It was first identified and described by Persoon (1801), who named it Boletus obliquus. Then, it was renamed Polyporus obliquus by Fries (1830), followed by Quélet (1888), who called it Poria obliqua (under the bark of dry Fagus). In 1927, Bourdot and Galzin called it Xanthochrous obliquus, and its current name, Inonotus obliquus, was given by Pilàt (1936, 1942), who studied it thoroughly. Chaga has oblique pores—the origin of its species name obliquus. The first known researcher of chaga's chemical composition in 1864 was Dragendorff, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Tartu in Estonia!!
What are the health benefits of chaga and what are the risks?
Please consult our chaga health page.
What is the history of chaga?
Nobody knows exactly how far back chaga usage goes. Stories about its benefits have been passed down for centuries in Estonian, Siberian, Alaskan, North American Native Indian and Finnish (Sami) cultures for generations.
In modern times, it became famous thanks to Cancer Ward, a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, published in 1968. Solzhenitsyn claimed that chaga helped cure him (well, the semi-autobiographical character purported to be him) of cancer.
In the chapter entitled “The Cancer in the Birch Tree”, Solzhenitsyn describes the character Oleg Kostoglotov, a political prisoner, having been released from a prison camp only to find he has developed cancer. Assigned to a clinic to receive high doses of radiation, Kostoglotov tells his fellow patients that he wishes he could have been given a simpler "peasant’s cure".
“He could not imagine any greater joy than to go away into the woods for months on end, to break off this chaga, crumble it, boil it up on a campfire, drink it and get well like an animal.”
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward (1968)
Sergey N. Maslennikov, a Russian doctor born in 1887, noted that he didn’t have any cancer patients among the peasants that he treated. He discovered that the peasants would save money on buying tea, instead cutting down and brewing up the birch mushroom. He believed that, unknowingly, they had been preventing and treating cancer for centuries. As he began to experiment with chaga, he considered whether should it be boiled and at what temperature, how many doses should be given and which tumours responded, etc. Then he began to treat his patients with the chaga mushroom.
In Estonia, Finland, Russia, and Northern America & Canada, chaga has been known and consumed for many centuries. It has been said that the Russian ruler Vladimir Monomahh was cured of lip cancer in the 12th century. (Shashkina et al., 561: 2006)
Chaga has been used in Russian, Polish and Estonian folk medicine since the 16th century for gastrointestinal malignancies, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. In Western Siberia, chaga has also been used to relieve tuberculosis. Russian and Siberian chaga folk medicine is used in the treatment of various cancers, including inoperable breast cancer, and cancer of the lip, salivary gland, lung, skin and colorectal cancer.
In Finnish folk medicine, chaga has been used to treat diabetes, gastritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, asthma and other conditions. In the past, it is claimed the Sami tribe drank chaga every day.
Who uses chaga today and why?
Chaga has become extremely popular in recent years for people who want to improve their health and general well-being. It seems that women like (or buy) it more than men for some reason. Perhaps because they are traditionally the family health guardians more than men?
Chaga can be used as a fabric dye (producing a yellowish-mustardy colour) and in Russia, a water extract has been used to wash (disinfect) new born babies. But the most common uses are to make tea and stock as a food and drink supplement. People use chaga for its reported health benefits.
It can also be used as a firelighter. Many bushcrafters insist it holds an ember for hours and can even be carried, burning slowly, in a pouch.
How good is Estonian chaga compared to Siberian, Chinese or Canadian chaga?
No direct comparisons have been made as far as we know between Estonian chaga and other sources. Our chaga is sustainably harvested from clean, pure forests. Read more about high-quality Estonian chaga.
We did find some scientific evidence suggesting French chaga contains betulin and betulinic acid at higher levels than in Siberian or Canadian chaga, whereas the concentration of inotodiol is greater in the Canadian chaga. Source: Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a Future Potential Medicinal Fungus in Oncology? A Chemical Study.
Do you make freeze dried chaga extract? I heard that's best.
Good question! We are glad you asked that.We do :) 100% soluble freeze dried chaga extract powder.
Is chaga safe for children?
Ask your doctor please. But again, we have not heard of any problems with kids consuming chaga. Our kids use it from time to time. Please consult our chaga health page. Having said that, like all supplements and medicines, you should keep your chaga out of reach of children.
Can dogs eat chaga?
Our dog "Cookie" does. She loves chewing a piece of chaga and we have added chaga to her food sometimes. Does it help? Well, you can google it. Apparently so... but we are not vets. Let us know what your vet says, please. Maybe it would be really cool to make some special chaga dog snacks :)
Do chaga products contain caffeine?
Can I mix chaga with coffee? Are your products vegan and gluten free?
Yes, yes and yes. Just add half a teaspoon of freeze dried chaga to your ground coffee and make it in the way you usually would.
What is the ORAC value of Estonian NATURAL CHAGA?
We have not tested our chaga for ORAC values. The test is not available in most European countries since ORAC values were debunked as a valid metric and withdrawn in 2012. These values are considered biologically irrelevant by the EFSA and USDA.
Numerous chaga companies are promoting chaga products with "high ORAC values". As most of these ORAC values have not been independently validated or subjected to peer review for publication in scientific literature, they remain unconfirmed, are not scientifically credible, and are misleading you. Be very careful who you buy from. Read more about ORAC values here.
Is your chaga lab tested?
No. We are a small family business and so frequent and highly expensive tests are difficult to justify. We would rather have faith in the Estonian air and soil like generations have done before us. 4th cleanest air in the world according to WHO means something! Read about why Estonian chaga is a good choice. Plus, we only harvest chaga in remote forests, far from civilisation.
We are looking into funding to help with a range of tests to confirm what we already know: that our chaga is clean, pesticide-free and full of goodness :)
How much chaga extract should I consume?
There are no rigid guidelines or science on this. Personally, we consume one or two teas a day. Perhaps 3-5g of raw chaga. Some people say up to 10g a day is fine. On a personal level we consume about 8g a day or 1-2g of freeze dried chaga extract.
Should I take a break from taking chaga from time to time? Why or why not?
Again, hard to say. In our case, we consume chaga 5 days a week and have 2 off or sometimes 3 weeks in a row and one week off. Listen to your body. Chaga is powerful.
What does chaga taste like?
A little bitter, a touch of vanilla, maybe? It's unique. Try it. Some people like it mixed into their food or add some honey to a chaga tea, for example. We just cook up some chaga tea and have a small glass of cold chaga tea as a "shot" early morning before breakfast.
How long does it take to feel or see any effects or results from taking chaga?
That's a tricky question. We are all different. Chaga, in our opinion, is a long-term food & drink supplement that can improve well-being in a number of ways. The simple answer is that some people report fast effects, some do not.
Can I use one Natural Chaga™ more than once?
Use Natural Chaga™ Fine Powder just once (or twice max). Natural Chaga Chunks™ can be used up to 10 times. You will see when you make chaga tea that the colour changes as it becomes weaker. You can freeze chaga between uses.
Can I brew chaga tea with boiling water?
Some people say yes. Most say no, and we say no. We recommend "cooking chaga" at a temperature of 50-60 degrees celsius. Boiling could reduce the effects of the chaga and the bio-availability of its active ingredients. Check our chaga recipes.
What is the shelf life of chaga, and how should I store it?
To maintain the quality of your Natural Chaga™, keep it in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight and stored in an airtight container. It should be good for about 2 years. You can also freeze chaga. Keep out of reach of children. We humidity test ALL of our chaga to ensure that the level is 14% or less. Above 14% and it has a tendency to mold or rot and can be unhealthy. Make sure, if you buy raw chaga from other sources, that it has been sufficiently dried.
Our freeze dried chaga extract powder lasts for years.
Can you make chaga tinctures with alcohol like vodka?
Yes and you can use chaga in lots of creative ways as a food or drink supplement too. Please check our chaga recipes.
How far does Estonian Chaga grow from populated regions?
We only harvest chaga in protected national parks and forests where there are building restrictions and the area is "organic". These are far from cities.
Does the birch tree die after the chaga mushroom is harvested?
No it doesn't. There is no actual scientific research (that we are aware of) to show that sustainably removing the chaga kills or even harms its host tree.
Another common myth is that the chaga is a kind of "cancer" to the birch tree and ultimately kills it. If this is true, you could say by harvesting it we are helping the tree live longer, but we think more research is needed in this area.